; Cwyn's Death By Tea: 2020 ;

The Very Limited T-Shirt for Cwyn's Tea Fund

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Five Years On: white2tea's 72 Hours


Back in 2015 I made some excellent decisions about puerh tea. Mainly in buying as much as possible. Today the prices of puerh tea have risen dramatically beyond what I was able to afford just a few years ago. One of my purchases included 72 Hours by white2tea, a tea which has long sold out. I managed to find the original listing for it, however.



In this listing, the blend recipe is supposed to age rather early, and peak at around five years. Now that I have stored the tea for five years, I am taking the time to give it a try.

Originally I tried this tea in a session with TwoDog in the summer of 2015, he had pressed the tea in June and in July visited our home state of Wisconsin when I got to meet up with him. He didn't tell me the name of the tea, nor share much except that he mentioned he got the blend recipe from a tea friend. TwoDog had watched over a few beengs of this blend and noted they became sweeter and more complex within a short time.


The only tea I know of that ages this quickly is Xigui area tea, but I don't know much about blends and I'm sure there are other teas that mature more quickly as well. Xigui tea is supposedly in white2tea's 2015 Pin and 2014 Apple Scruffs, a tea I regret not buying at the time. But again, I can't be fully certain of this. What TwoDog has said is that he cannot make any of these teas nowadays at a price point that people will pay, great tea has simply risen in price well beyond what most of us can afford.


In my original session, we also drank a 1960s aged raw puerh which quickly eclipsed any first impressions I had of 72 Hours. I was given a small bit to take home, and enjoyed it for a couple more sessions. I still have maybe one more session of that sample. But I want to try a bit off the actual untouched beeng which I stored together with a few other white2teas in a canister, adding a bit of moisture here and there over the years.

I can see from the beeng that some oxidation has occurred as the leaf has darkened. My question is whether five years in dry storage is enough to move the tea along. I break off a hefty 12g since this is supposed to be a sweet tea. Brewing vessel is porcelain gaiwan.

First steeping after the rinse is bitter with notes of root beer, chicory or chocolate as well as a bit of hay. I also notice a note of traditional Chinese medicine, just in the first steep. This note may have been picked up from the other beengs in the canister. I notice a strong cooling sensation in the mouth and throat. The choco continues through to steep 5, along with the bitterness. I really leafed this strong. The cup smells much sweeter than the actual brew tastes, a strong floral and cotton candy scent I find in many pricey teas like my CYH samples.

Steep 2

Steeps five and six are the money steeps. Here I found a deeper base note of black pepper along with the bitterness and root beer and fruit. These steepings feel completely "round" to me, is the word I thought of, round like the nose on a fine perfume where you have top, middle and bottom notes. This tea has all three in steeps five and six. The bitterness changes to sweet in the mouth, though with less cooling than earlier. The full profile of flavors is remarkable compared to other teas I own.

Now I feel glad for buying tea that I aged myself. In these money steeps I don't need to brew or taste around anything unpleasant. No off storage notes, no processing issues like smoke or dirt. This is pure, as clean a tea as I can get. While I find tremendous benefit in buying semi-aged teas, particularly more traditional factory teas with some years of aging elsewhere, I have to taste around the problems in those teas like with processing and storage. The biggest reason to buy house teas from white2tea, the young and higher end stuff, is to get access to the leaf as close as possible to straight from the trees. What I can't find in the market nowadays is compensations in pricing for processing problems like burnt leaf tips or overly humid storage. Tea is just expensive based on how old it is more than any other factor.

Steep 7

I lose the pepper note in subsequent steeps but not the bitterness. I can attribute the bitterness in part to my heavy leafing. But no doubt this tea is not at a place I expected in year five which points to my storage. I believe that the original idea of this tea maturing in five years is based on storage in a more hot and humid climate. The tea was expected to mature, sweeten up and lose the top notes after that. My tea has not lost the bitterness and I still have the full profile of the tea. On the one hand, I am glad the tea is preserved and I haven't ruined the tea in any way. I felt a bit worried I might need to drink this up in one year, and I had hoped to keep it longer. Now I can see that the tea needs more time and honestly I would rather hang on to it. This is one of my better white2tea beengs.


We also discuss the problems of dry storage, and I don't have any acrid or sour notes which tells me I'm on the right track. We don't mention enough the benefits of dry storage, done right, which mainly is keeping the full profile of the tea intact. We talk about tea retaining its value, and value in older teas is mainly in preservation. It's fine to push teas for one's own benefit, but if you want your tea to hold value, the storage focus needs to be on preservation as well as aging. We need a balance between moving the tea along toward an aged profile while keeping the character of the leaf intact. I think it's fine to push a heavy factory tea but I don't intend to do that with teas that have such fine top notes. I know I wouldn't want to buy a heavily stored delicate tea, I will save that for more pungent examples.

Going forward, my 72 Hours beeng needs to continue to mature but I need to watch it carefully for that peak. I may or may not reach it, my tea could lose the top notes before the bitterness changes. I plan to re-sample a few of my blog teas this year and will share any changes I find. If you want a similar example to 72 Hours, consider picking up 2015 Pin, yet another tea that cannot be made at a low price point today.





Monday, May 11, 2020

Letter to a Prioress 2


Mother’s Day 2020

Dear Prioress__,

I can hardly believe more than two years have passed since I last wrote. I was not sure I would write again, but as before you walked through one of my dreams, this time in the company of Prioress K. I remember from my days at your house. So, I write now on a friendly whim, waving to you and her, if she is still with you. My odd menopausal (yes) dreams send me on many a whim, they speak my age. I take comfort in the fact you are older than I am, oh so snitty, but one of us must be older, right? I’m glad it is not me. Though of course you are still a young thing in the religious life for some, and I am sure an occasional reminder of that from a fellow sister is not too unwelcome.

Today I enjoyed reviewing the monastery website, really it is so well crafted and a pleasant journey to peruse. Though I felt sorry to see Sister T. passed in January, I read her obit several times. She got more lovely to look at as she got older, only one of her many gifts. I recognize more than a few names on the obituaries, and of course of my own bunch I know them all. My brain doesn’t process all those names, and I carry on as though everyone is still with us, trying to tell what stories I can of them. I know I am one of the few people left who remembers my own people. At any rate, I enjoyed the photos especially of the chapel. Easy to look at the spring flowers here and remember how pretty the grounds are at the college.

That’s the best I can say of today, for I can only imagine the challenges before you with the college shut and everything to worry about with this wretched pandemic. The messages on the website have a transparent, open feel which I really appreciate. I know of other sites that don’t address the pandemic quite so directly other than perhaps a donation made or some such.

The difficulty with servant leadership is when people want an absolute dictator rather than take on the challenge of collegiality. I remember learning from one of my own leaders that for her the leadership challenge during a painful period of history was not the decisions made but living forever with second guessing whether anything else should have been done. That and probably grieving the period longer than anyone else did. I imagine the Liturgy of the Hours with the schedule is sustaining, one has the next hour to go to.

As for me I am well, and probably have more time for contemplation than the average monastic for I am not too busy these days. I have time to write and think as I had hoped for much earlier in my life than is probably true of most people. Though it may not seem so from this letter, I am not terribly inclined to dwell on the past but find myself interested in what is going on now. Certainly we are in the most unusual of times.

Where I live people don’t truly understand the need to self-isolate, the mentality is a child being told what to do by a parent and thus no one wants to go along with the state plan. They don’t see the horrible decisions resulting from overwhelming the hospitals, that of deciding who gets precious resources and who might not, and who might not live. Thus far we have avoided this scenario in my area, but lord only knows the same could happen later this year with winter. I hate to say so but the difference seems to run between those with some education and those without, for anyone given the old classroom problem of who goes off the drowning boat recognizes the awful situation at once. If no one got the problem of who to throw off the boat, you never think about the reality of a situation happening with shared resources, when they run out. No, too many people just think they are being dictated to by an overlord rather than accepting their part in collegial living. Funny how people don’t want that overlord but then suddenly they do. Growing pains. I knew a W. Franciscan Sister V. once who used to always ask “when will society make a leap, do you think we are in a leap?” She always felt the leap was just before us, and perhaps it is just ahead but some days this feels like chasing a carrot on a long stick. I am no gentle help myself, the gifts I bring are either humor or sharp chaos.

My dream is always I am naked in the chapel. Tell your newly professed they can avoid the naked chapel dreams as long as they stay.

I’m down to a very few college pals staying in touch. We were informed that our class had the worst record for staying in touch and gathering, and it’s probably true. Most recently I stayed in touch with F. and also Sister S. S. recently removed her Facebook account for some reason. I can’t really blame her, I’m not a huge fan of Facebook myself. The way it tracks people, I feel like I need a digital or actual shower after viewing it, I clear out caches frantically afterward. Unfortunately, most of my friends and family use it to stay in touch so I can’t completely disengage.

In S’s case, I wonder if the Catherine Cesnik movie had anything to do with it, the backlash against the SSNDs was uncalled for. I offered to help with that case because I can access the seminary archives in Baltimore, the requirement to get in is having a deceased family member seminarian, and I do. My father went to the same seminary in Baltimore and was in the same class as the priests in the film. But they wanted me to work on something else I didn’t have qualifications for, some sort of police trace work. The only bit I felt I could qualify to do is the seminary records, so I declined.

Otherwise, I am trying to stay as healthy as I can. I live with my son and we have two cats, and an elderly man with mental illness who lives with us and has for many years. He went through an episode recently which was challenging, and he has these every so often. I hope he can stay healthy because during the episode he didn’t understand the need to stay home. But now he is doing better and stays home more.

I hope this letter was not too much a burden to read, I send you thoughts and prayers.



Sunday, May 3, 2020

Puerh Shopping in the New Normal


The current pandemic has accelerated demand for online shopping in general which naturally slows the progress of our tea orders as shipping services attempt to keep up. I am hearing a lot of grumbling about slow tea orders which tells me people are still buying and wondering where their packages are. Hello to the new normal.

Express Shipping

Prices for express have increased enormously, and this is because express services are flight-based. Planes are grounded and airlines are struggling to stay in business. Demand is far higher than available service. I would not pay for Express shipping myself, I would either do cargo boat or do without.

Cargo

This is the slow boat service which took two months prior to the new normal, and is now 3-4 months minimum. Boats are less affected in the new normal, but demand is even higher with flights grounded. Hence prices go up accordingly.

So, what can you do about tea shopping? Know that any shipping from Asia is going to take twice as long as before. Any shipping from outside your own country is longer. I recently ordered pet meds from New Zealand and this package took a month, which isn't too bad but twice as long as last year for the same order.

Thank goodness this wasn't tea ware.

Part of the grumbling I am hearing about is the increase of chargebacks by customers against tea companies for packages not arriving fast enough. This behavior is motivated in part by payment services like Paypal which has a 60 day refund window. If you don't get your package in this time frame, you can apply for a refund. However, this is killing tea sellers who rely on cargo boat shipping.

Should you order puerh from China at this time? Seems to me this divides buyers into two categories, the casual and the hardcore. Which are you? If you can't afford to wait out shipping times past a 60 day limit, consider yourself a casual buyer right now. Or just keep your orders to small amounts and place more orders rather than huge orders to keep your losses small if something doesn't arrive. While most sellers will reship, the fault is probably not in their control. Lost packages are both a cost of doing business, but also in the new normal a cost of the consumer if the tea ordered is no longer available.

A faster option is to look at tea buying closer to home. This favors the shopper who is looking for drinker quality tea, rather than collector quality. In fact, you might want to check local options before placing an overseas order to see if you can find an acceptable drinker to carry you through the new normal this year.

Give tea sellers a break, it isn't their fault shipping is so slow. Wait out an acceptable amount of time, if you choose boat shipping expect to wait four months. Contact the seller before doing a chargeback, you might get options like a reship or store credit. Again, if you can't afford to wait out the shipping, you probably can't afford tea buying.

Some retailers to consider:

Yunnan Sourcing has a US-based warehouse and is ramping up the offerings. Another retailer selling new tea is Crimson Lotus Tea with their Seattle-based Inventory selections. Surprise, you can buy some white2tea selections online from Macha Tea Company in Wisconsin. If you prefer Taiwan storage, consider either Beautiful Taiwan Teas or Teas We Like. In Canada, Vancouver-based Chinese Tea Shop is offering a 15% discount for online orders $60 and above.





Friday, March 20, 2020

We're Really Lucky


Today I am thanking the good gods who made me a puerh tea hoarder. If you're like me, we started early enough on our collections to sit pretty today on a chair made of tongs. I need not worry about how long viruses last on packages and tea because I have my own dirt built right up into my collection to enjoy. Ditto the teaware, I can go at least a month without washing anything and drink tea every day. I need not worry about crawling from my bed in a desperate search for clean tea ware, I have a whole display case with the best of the best just awaiting my whims.

Not that I don't have worries. I have a denier in my household named Mr. B. who is now in a full-blown manic episode. Try sheltering in place with a manic person, you have all the entertainment you need for 20 hours a day, just the talking itself lasts for a good 15. I get to while away my time listening to all kinds of rambling, singing and whistling. Mr. B. likes to listen to quack AM radio stations and says the virus is a Hoax to enable the government to impose martial law. So he sees no reason to curtail his goings about in the community. In fact, he is gone at the moment and I have no clue where he is. I can't stop him myself and I expect to pay whatever price he does, although Mr. B. has been kind enough to pay me in weed. My son too has to go out to work his food related part time job, so at this point my own behavior probably won't matter much and thus I can smoke and drink my life away before something worse surely gets me.

I feel bad for people who need to hoard toilet paper. In a pinch I have plenty of bamboo and paper wrappers, and even a bamboo tea scoop with a handle the consistency of a corn cob. People around here say nothing good comes from China, they haven't a clue how good I have it and so I need not pack heat like the guy who owns the smoke shop down the street with a revolver at his belt. My tea is not a fire hazard when safely ensconced in large crocks like every good farm lady does with her food.

In fact, my plan is a healthy 7542 to beat the scourges of the ages and I'd get that tattooed on my arm if the governor hadn't closed the ink parlors. I bought coffee just in case, apparently the more green the tea the more alkaline, and acid is what we need to fight viruses. One jar of instant coffee suffices, I don't need to build up a stockpile of what won't get drunk. Mr. B hoards coffee anyway. I feel so good playing with my tuos and ever so glad the rest of the world around me knows squat all about puerh tea. Just think of the supply problem if the neighbors caught on.

So cheer up and carry on, my fellow puerh hoarding friends. Let us enjoy the goodness of the Yunnan harvests in the comfort of our homes. Keep in touch, people. I'd love to know what you are choosing to drink up in the days to come.

Friday, February 28, 2020

No-Buy Anxiety


I haven't bought any puerh in a really long time. My last puerh buy is now out of memory. Of course I have plenty of puerh, but my hongcha is now down to a couple of beengs which are not too useful in the Teforia. Looseleaf in general is not useful in a Teforia because I have to clean out the infuser. I don't know why my house cleaner won't do it for me. I asked, and got a blank look and a refusal. So I don't want to do a major haul cuz puerh temptations, right, I paid $2.59 for this mashed box of Tazo tea bags. They taste okay. Well, truthfully they are horrible.

Can't count up the problems at the moment. I'm worried about the tea harvest, who will harvest the puerh tea and who will press it into disks so all is right with the world, but everything is just wrong, wrong, wrong. No one is talking about harvest 2020 and what it means??! First we have the virus messing up the universe and marching toward me, we also have the ex-husband trapped in a Shanghai apartment with some girl named "Amy" (yes he calls her that), which is also my sister's name, trapped by the virus which might be okay by me except the unpaid bills and credit denials show up at my house and oops that VPN just is so spotty, isn't it, thank god me and mine are all in my name. Listen, when he went over there it was Anhui first, and I just got out my Anhui bacon log heichas and said "here, drink this rather than all the bother." Now look where he is, stuck in China with all the tea even though he really doesn't drink any and certainly has nowhere near the appreciation. He could have learned it and saved a crap ton of money. He doesn't give two figs about me and my tea issues, I just get emails saying "send masks." At $115 for FedEx Express. This is the sort of thing I am getting right now from China instead of useful information like early harvest reports.

Little dribbles of everything's fine out of Yunnan, but then I haunt the BBC every hour and something is not lining up. I wonder if 2020 is a year people will want to buy or maybe not until 2040, I will be long gone by then so why worry about the tea now? My puerh isn't giving me answers, and for what I have spent on puerh I not only require conversation, it needs to clean my house, do my laundry and rinse the Teforia. Safe and snug in the crocks unlike myself because when I go out every snotty kid makes a beeline toward me and cough cough cough my life grows just a bit shorter and no I won't have time to drink it all, so why buy any when the whole lot is just gonna get pawned off onto the first cash bidder my son can find. At my age I have to think about this shit whereas most of you are probably under thirty, nay under twenty I bet, and all your consideration is how to store and not where your corpse is gonna go and hongcha in the a.m. isn't a problem when you are still on Starbucks. Just wait when it all happens to you and I don't expect anyone will remember old Cwyn said it, when you get old with nothing but your puerh to keep you company, you can't buy more and no one is shipping either. Everywhere I look is end times. I tried an AA meeting but they kicked me out for trolling. I guess tea addiction doesn't count.

Okay, the benzo isn't working and I need some retail therapy. Yunnan Sourcing has a black tea sale this weekend, code BGW15. I haven't checked Yunnan Sourcing in awhile, the US site. To help me get off the Tazo and temazo I buy 2018 Drunk on Red and something called "Yuchi Rhythm 21 Organic Nectar Melody Bug Bitten Black Tea" which reminds me of a teenage grope in the poison ivy down by the lake. I really want the 2019 Man Gang Hong from Bang Dong, it's only $35 but I can resist it just thinking of what this bug bit tea is gonna do for me. In the meantime, I think I will go drink some puerh.




Thursday, February 13, 2020

The "Mom Test"


Recently in a Slack Chat tea group, I read a bit of discussion about a concept used by the TeaDB guys known in their videos as the "Mom Test." For those of you living under a rock, if you don't know who TeaDB is, run not walk over to teadb.org for a whole wealth of content about puerh tea. But I am guessing most readers here are familiar with the videos by the TeaDB guys and their reviews of tea, as well as the trope the "Mom Test." The relevant discussion in Slack Chat was whether or not the Mom Test is "sexist." I found this very interesting food for thought.

Now, before I get into those thoughts I am grateful to TeaDB for the idea of the Mom Test, because my thoughts about this are not specific to TeaDB nor to the guys, but rather to the social, literary and aesthetic merits of the concept. In other words, I found a lot to think about and at my age thinking is good. So, the Mom Test is very simply an idea of whether or not a specific tea might appeal to a Mom, that is, someone with a limited appreciation of tea.

In fact, the Mom is a character we need to consider here. It's true the Mom is a female, and refers most specifically to the Mom of the young man and also somewhat to the Moms of the TeaDB guys. Though Denny has exempted his actual mom from the Mom Test from time to time, because his mother actually drinks a variety of teas and probably has more appreciation than the trope Mom. But the key here with the Mom is the idea of appreciation. Even if the Mom drinks tea, she is assumed to have limitations in her taste or ability to appreciate teas beyond a certain comfort zone, and sheng puerh specifically and usually lies outside the comfort zone. Sheng is especially challenging when it has strong bitterness or astringency, or very wet or obvious storage flavors, or perhaps a peat-y profile that leads to strong body sensation. The Mom may be sensitive to teas beyond a simple hong or oolong.

The Mom also is likely to reject teas outside the comfort zone based on assumptions from actual past experiences of rejecting teas presented by the son, although not always a rejection. Sheng puerh in particular is somewhat like serving stinky cheeses. Even though a person may not reject the stinky cheese outright, we still have the failure to fully appreciate nuances. So even if the Mom agrees to try the tea, and might not find it completely offensive, she still fails to appreciate fully all of the characteristics the son finds in the tea.

I say "son" as specifically as the term Mom, because I cannot separate the idea of the Mom as sexist without removing the son. To have a Mom, we need a child and the idea of son is as key as the idea of Mom. The Mom Test is a generalized notion of the non appreciative parent, but is specifically mother and son in that the humor or idea here is that of a boy presenting a tea to his mother, not a daughter necessarily. I'm not sure the hubris works quite the same way culturally with daughter/Mom as it does with son.

As an older mother of a grown son the same age as the TeaDB guys, I can respond to the notion of sexism but this is not troubling to me necessarily, at least not beyond an occasional eye roll. My eye roll is more the generalized idea of sheng specifically as unappealing to older women, but I don't feel in the same category as the Mom. In my case, I'm the sheng drinker in the family and I would never serve my son any of the sheng teas because like the Mom he actually fails to appreciate the nuances of the tea, so I don't bother trying. In my world, I suppose I have the Son Test, but this isn't a concept that means anything to me, and doesn't have the hubris of the Mom Test as used in TeaDB. Why not? Because we need to consider the audience.

The Mom isn't necessarily sexist as a trope to me because the hubris here is really more about the sons rather than about the mom. When the videos refer to the Mom Test, the conversation shrinks to boys and more boys with the shared idea of mother of a certain age and sensibility. This is where my eye roll lies, not with the Mom as such, but the reminder that suddenly I'm not in the audience of young men.

I have had this same out-of-audience experience as a gamer, specifically with a Japanese MMO I played with Chinese and Japanese young men who agreed that women over the age of 20 should not play video games. In their view, a woman older than this changes from a child to whatever they associated with wife and mother. At the same time she develops interests such as shopping and laundry. I liked to follow up their gamer trope by ticking the cultural boxes back at them, by saying that I am over 50, have a PhD, career, am a mother to grown son, son is in university, yes all the stereotypical cultural boxes I am "supposed" to have and yet here I am kicking enemy ass all the same. I asked flat outright if I should be gaming, and they all said no. I didn't object to this because the expectations on my performance were still ironically the same as for them. But I never lost the awareness that I am still outside the club of young men even though in reality they probably failed to appreciate me.

So I do not fit the notion of gamer lady any more than I fit the Mom in the Mom Test, and thus I don't object to it necessarily as directed to me and my gender because it says more about the boys than it does about me. But I am aware of the shrinking of the audience for the concept of Mom Test, when the conversation is thus directed at other boys who get the in-joke even as I understand the joke and the failure to appreciate tea which is the general idea after all.

A feminist might confront me outright and say that I deflect what is clearly sexist, or anti-feminist. That I am not owning up to and confronting latent sexism in a concept that is meant to be general about tea. In fact, the Slack Chat conversation had men objecting to the Mom Test as sexist. I could say they confronted sexism for me, if I wish to continue the division here. But I argue the division is not really about male vs. female as it is about an audience of young men, and I stress young. It's as much young vs. old as it is about gender.

Surely the question begs whether we can find aesthetic concepts about tea that are gender neutral, and we have these already which is why the Mom Test is interesting. Not many concepts attempt at any kind of humor. In a way, I started my blog because sheng puerh in particular lacked humor. I have certainly taken advantage of gender at my expense, rather like Joan Rivers did in her comedy which relied on female age stereotypes. I push it in the extreme with my particularly incontinent and tea drunk avatar, and am well aware that I can hardly object to notions that I myself choose to abuse.

If anything I feel a bit wistful when the conversation of the Mom Test shrinks the audience to young men, for I can never be anything but the Mom and am not the Mom. I should have a Son Test, but this doesn't work as a concept and I don't care that my son doesn't appreciate sheng. I personally don't want my son to appreciate sheng though perhaps the TeaDB boys wish their Moms did. This is another reason why I can't object to the Mom Test, I don't need to share it necessarily. The Mom Test speaks of boys who want to connect with Mom in ways she doesn't care to, but she doesn't necessarily feel a lack thereof.

As a tea concept, the Mom Test is supposed to label a tea for general consumption by tea drinkers who are looking for pleasant, comfortable flavors but not anything challenging to the palate. This is where the supposed value lies, though I would argue the main value of the Mom Test is that we have a rich concept here in tea aesthetics, when in general "serious" tea conversation nowadays lacks rich concepts. Today in tea we are constantly looking for specifics, we are trying to pinpoint and want tea to be scientifically "objective," when tea is in fact aesthetic and literary. The Mom Test is an actual literary aesthetic idea and is thus more meaningful than our ultimately futile efforts to "science-tize" tea drinking. Thus the Mom Test is more closely related to older tea writing rather than the type we strive for nowadays, like a painting of tea drinking by the lotus pond rather than data and charts and numbers and how many steepings we made that blog posts are full of. In this sense, the Mom Test more accurately points to the activity of tea as aesthetic pleasure rather than scientific and so doesn't mislead the audience.

So mainly I appreciate the Mom Test as a rich idea, and this is why I hope the TeaDB guys continue to use it both to describe teas and to make a few jokes about tea drinking. They are speaking about their experience as aesthetes. I'd rather leave the gender neutral etc. etc. for another day and another topic and just enjoy. Cheers!


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Puerh Trends in 2020: Rise of the Zerg


A whole new decade feels like the last century fades farther and farther away. Trends now draw less on the past and more on looking ahead. Climate change continues to affect puerh tea harvest, but up to now dry and cold weather affect the supply of high end tea more than the output of factory tea. Whether climate increasingly affects puerh tea harvests is a factor we drinkers need to watch, but I don't think buying trends are impacted this year by climate fears as much as other issues.

Responsible/Conscious buying

This is probably the biggest trend which I feel will impact puerh buying this year. Aside from people who use puerh as a dietary component, the recreational user is more conscious of purchasing decisions. Responsible buying is a trendy concept in consumer spending in general, but we have a lot of reasons why this idea might hit puerh buyers this year.

How Much is Enough? Blogger Mattcha refers to this in his most recent post. Collecting for the sake of owning kicks in once you have enough to drink and beyond. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) plays into buying, to some extent, as does the thought of buying what you feel you don't have already. But once you find your way out of FOMO and your collection feels full, continuing to buy feels less responsible.

Storage. Blogger Wilson counsels against the issue of storage and questions whether buyers have what it takes to store puerh successfully. He also questions whether the "newer" style of green puerh will age as traditional factory teas do. He suggests buying 5-8 year old tea, and to me this seems like sensible advice. Storage requires space. Whether you have this kind of space currently, or your partner objects to space given over to tea, storing tea is going to require you to give decades of space and costs. When Responsible conscious buying kicks in, storage emerges as a big reason to halt late night shopping cart purchases.

Wilson's post on storage directly hits at FOMO by suggesting that buyers can pick up some tea in years 5-8 with a good start to storage, so why hurry? While prices do rise on teas with age, money saved on storage costs and space saved might seem worth paying a bit extra for tea a little bit older. I have also noticed that western buying of drinker quality tea from each other in years 5-8 generally is well under retail, unless we are talking about premium or collector value tea. Picking up tea from someone getting rid of stash may actually save money over buying from a vendor. All this feels like responsible buying, and also is a way to combat the fear of missing out because you know that you can find tea easily with a few years of age on it.

Money Toward Other Goals. This is rather self-explanatory and certainly is a factor every year. Especially if you have enough tea.

In general, consumers question whether they really need a purchase and this year I feel people are looking for reasons to buy when faced with many reasons not to. Other factors may play into conscious buying as well.

Rise of the Zerg, the Experiential Casual

Zerg is a gaming term referring to a group of people, maybe noobs, definitely in large numbers, who pursue a single-minded goal, while perhaps forgoing other possible objectives. I think puerh is more mainstream every year, and I expect to see more casuals buying puerh with the idea of having a new experience. This is not the type of person who will buy tongs upon tongs, but who will buy sample bags. The Zerg is a responsible, conscious buyer, of course, who wants to experience puerh and who feels the sample bag is a perfect way to experience a tea. The idea here is a short term experience rather than the long-term-commitment-buying we puerh collectors are well into.

The Zerg will feel they have completely owned the puerh experience through the sample bag without requiring more. This is a difficult idea to counter because the Zerg is convinced they have had a full experience already, as much as the person who bought the full tong. What blogger James at Teadb refers to as stamp collecting is sidestepped by the Zerg who will want to know exactly how they are missing out by not owning and drinking an entire tong when their sample bag suffices. After all, oolong is mostly a small bag experience. But more to the point, one cannot tell someone their taste is less than complete when tea drinking is an aesthetic relative to the individual and no real objective data on tongue experience exists to say otherwise, except as the personal anecdote everyone has. The blogger has less value as an aesthete than as a source of recommending a possible experience.

People decide what they know aesthetically, experience cannot be taught and I'm not sure people want to be "mentored" in tea tasting these days. The Zerg wants to find their own experience, free from the overt influence of others while still requiring the participation of others for recommendations. The Zerg may also have friends reinforcing the new tea experience, making it harder still to argue a casual tasting is anything less than knowledge.

The Zerg is a challenge for the vendor and the blogger. Aside from making more sample bags, I think vendors will need to find reasons why a specific tea is a unique experience worth having to convince the conscious newbie to at least try the tea, as well as convince the already-full collector to buy more. Puerh bloggers tend to go for depth rather than breadth of tea coverage, but this is a good reason more people might start blogging rather than current bloggers rushing to keep up. The Zerg will casually ask "what shall I buy?" and someone needs to have recommendations for that sample bag. But, beyond the recommendation the Zerg is out for the short term experience and I expect to see more and more Zergs because they flow in numbers. Good luck telling them their experience is any less complete than yours.

Puerh Cocktails

Tea is in everything lately, and I expect to see more experimenting with serving puerh with other flavors. A bit of puerh tea in a tall glass with ice, a little alcohol, some flavorings and you have a new drink. Gong fu'ers know that puerh doesn't necessarily taste great after sitting a bit, but one doesn't need much to make a drink and other flavors can completely overwhelm the tea anyway.

Additions to Shou

Last year I suggested that we might see weed in tea, and this year I think we will see more than just chen pi in the shou. We already have the traditional additions of rice, ginseng, chrysanthemum and rose petals, but maybe this is the year to add in chocolate and other flavors for the Zerg looking at new experiences in the local coffee bar. Yes, I said "coffee bar."

People Will Throw out the Wrappers

I think saving wrappers is less a trend, we can always find cool new wrappers to buy.

So these are my thoughts for the new year ahead. I will take a look later on in the year and see if any of these develop or if any new trends emerge. All in good fun, of course.